The government’s decision to demolish at least 317 buildings in the area commonly known as Astir Neighborhood, close to the Ring Road, without following necessary procedures and without proper compensation, violates citizens’ human and constitutional rights, which constitute one of the unfulfilled conditions for the opening of negotiations between Albania and the EU.
The government has decided to widen a segment of the Tirana outer ring road, starting from the so-called “Arrows Residential Building” (Pallati me Shigjeta) down to the so-called “Eagle Roundabout”.
The project has never been public, hence there is limited information about it. However, it is clear that the initial project did not include the demolition of buildings on the side of the existing road. The project has been subsequently changed, for unknown reasons and in unknown ways, to include the widening of the existing road, despite it having already three lanes on each direction.
As a result, at least 317 buildings (up to 800 according to some sources) should be demolished, affecting about 600 families inhabiting in them, as well as tens of businesses. Owners of 163 building have submitted application for the legalization of their properties, but the government decided to stop the legalization process as soon as it opened the tendering for the reconstruction of the outer ring road on 7 September, 2018, without any notice to citizens. The procedure for the cancellation of the legalization process is not clear.
On 1 November, 2018, after the closing of the tendering procedures and the selection of the winning companies, the Construction Police ordered the inhabitants and business owners ordered to immediately leave their houses and properties. The Municipality of Tirana promised them temporary rent coverage and future compensation.
The citizens started protesting against the decision and the subsequent order. However, it appears that the government will start with the forceful removal of inhabitants from their apartments and demolition of their houses.
Violations of the law
1- The right to property is a constitutional right sanctioned by Art.42 of the Constitution: “The right to property is guaranteed.” and “Expropriations or those limitations of the right to property that are equal to expropriation are only allowed in return for a rightful compensation.” The Constitution allows expropriation only after the owners have been paid a rightful compensation.
The right to property has also been sanctioned by the European Convention on Human Rights, in Art.8: “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.” and “There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
In this particular case, the owners were promised a future compensation, without any further specification and, moreover, without any formal decision about this compensation. Hence, houses will be demolished not only without prior compensation as per the Constitution, but to make things worse even without any formal decision on the compensation and the amount of it.
A series of judgments from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has made clear that the rights to respect for a home includes illegally built houses or houses lacking property documents. Only during 2016 there have been two confirmed cases in which this position of the ECtHR has been consolidated: Ivanova and Cherkezov v. Bulgaria and Bagdonavicius and others v. Russia.
2- The Government’s actions violate a number of laws regarding transparency, access to public information, public participation in decision-making, and citizens’ environmental rights.
The road reconstruction project has been approved in complete absence of transparency. The details of the project remain unknown to the public, and no study, document, or drawing has ever been made available.
The government has also violated the Aarhus Convention which guaranteed citizens’ access to information related to the environment and participation in all decisions that are related to the environment. According to this Convention, which the government has signed, it should have made all the information concerning the construction project public and organized public consultations with the citizens. The government has not implemented any of these procedures.
3- The government has crucially violated one of the five conditions for the opening of EU accession negotiations, namely the implementation of human rights, including property rights. The EU institutions and high officials have clearly reiterated in every public statement that the right to property is one of the conditions the Albanian government is expected to comply with.
In December 2016, the European Council stated in its evaluation of Albania:
The Council reiterates the need for effective legislative and policy measures to reinforce the protection of human rights and anti-discrimination policies, including the equal treatment of all minorities and access to rights for persons belonging to them throughout Albania, as well as to efficiently implement property rights.
In November, 2016, in a statement regarding the German Bundestag’s decision to deny the opening of the negotiations with Albania, the Albanian government was asked “to comply with the recommendations on human rights, non-discrimination and property rights, as they were presented in the European Commission Progress Report in November, 2016.”